From hotels to photography equipment, credit cards to electronics, here’s a rundown of my favorite travel finds, accessories, companies and experiences.
If you’ve been following my adventures for some time, you know I don’t have much luck with air travel (Delta, I’m looking at you). But there are a few domestic airlines – Southwest, JetBlue, Virgin America, Alaska Air – that I will endorse, as well as a couple of international gems like Virgin Atlantic. When searching for flights, I usually check Kayak.com for the lowest rate and then book directly through the airline’s site so as to not incur any change fees should I have to make alterations.
Ride-sharing has changed my life, both in Nashville and when I’m on the road and don’t want to deal with the hassle of a rental car. I don’t support Uber – want to know why? read this story – but I love Lyft (though bear in mind that its drivers often need clear directions) and encourage you to check it out, too. If you want to try it out for free first, use my referral code KRISTIN980 when you download the app, and we’ll both get a complimentary ride. Hey, everyone wins, right?
When I’m traveling for fun, SVV and I book Airbnb rentals more often than not. We love the ability to stay in a neighborhood that’s off-the-beaten tourist path and also have many of the conveniences of home. If you’re a first-timer and concerned about taking the Airbnb plunge, I wrote this post of tips just for you. If you’re traveling to a beach area, HomeAway is often a better bet for a vacation rental than Airbnb, which seems to have a higher concentration of properties in urban areas.
There are several hotel brands that have gained my loyalty over decades of travel through superior service. I’m a huge fan of the Kimpton collection – and adore the fact that they’re pet-friendly – and have stayed in my share of Fairmonts throughout the years. I always find both brands’ portfolios to be full of character, not to mention the staffs are superbly trained. I also love Four Seasons, the W, Mandarin Oriental and Loews properties and would stay at any of them over their competitors.
I’ve Couchsurfed my way across Europe, I’ve Airbnb’d my way around the United States, but the next method of travel I’m dying to try is house-sitting. So who better to learn about the concept of staying for free (or a marginal cost) in homes around than world than Pete and Dalene Heck, the very travelers who introduced me to the concept? The Hecks’ ebook covers it all—and is chock full of helpful tips from both homeowners and house-sitters—including contracts, safety and important things to consider before you make the leap.
One question I get asked commonly from readers is about my photography equipment. Photographers will argue that it’s not about the body, it’s about the lens. And sure, that’s true to an extent: If you want to spend a lot of money on any one thing, lens investments are where your focus should be. You’re paying for the glass, and quite simply, the better the glass, the higher quality the image. That said, I recently upgraded from a cropped sensor to a full frame, using my same lens kit I’ve had for years, and I’ve seen a noticeable difference in quality.
If you’re a beginner, the Canon EOS Rebel series can’t be beat. It’s affordable, it’s functional, lightweight, it’s not overwhelming but offers a lot of room for you to learn and expand your skills. At the time of writing this, the Canon EOS Rebel T6i was the most recent to debut (it even has Wi-Fi!), but I also suggest going with the latest model, whatever that may be.
If you know your stuff, but are not quite a professional (yet), you should really look into the full-frame Canon 6D. This is my go-to camera, and I’m so happy I upgraded over the holidays last year (when it was on sale for $1200). My images have never been better, and you can also buy it with the 24-105mm lens, which would definitely be my recommendation.
If you’re a pro, then you needn’t even read this section, though you probably want to look into the Mark series. The Canon EOS 5D Mark III is my dream camera, but at this time, I can’t afford the high price point, nor does the hefty weight make sense for what I’m using it for (travel photography vs. portraits). With the Mark, you’re getting more pixels and more focal points. But if you’re not shooting portraits, you’ll likely be fine with the Canon 6D.
The first lens I bought beyond the kit that comes with a DSLR was the 17-85mm. This is a great starter for newbies: It’s not too heavy, and it’s extremely versatile—you can shoot a closely cropped portrait or use the wide angle for landscapes. The next big investment was 24-105mm, which offers a similar range but with better glass and added functionality. I’ve owned this lens for five years and it continues to be my go-to, for the zoom capabilities, great depth of field and wonderful bokeh.
WIDE ANGLE LENS
My favorite fun, frivolous photography accessory is my 10-20mm. The super wide angle gives it almost a fish eye effect, making it perfect for cityscapes. It’s also good for dramatic effect, interiors and tight city spaces. Now that I have a full-frame camera, I’m looking at investing in either the Canon 10-22mm or the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 to fulfill my wide-angle needs.
My 70-300mm is a Tamron, which is one of the cheaper zoom lenses you’ll find. Unfortunately, I owned a Canon 70-300mm (a much better model), and it was stolen in Cape Town, so I had to make due with what I could find (and afford) as a replacement. When I went to the Galapagos, I rented a fixed zoom, the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6, and it was extremely handy in capturing wildlife from afar, though it’s so big and bulky, I definitely couldn’t haul this piece of equipment around on a regular basis.
For low-light and in-your-face shots photography, a 50mm is a great lens to round out your repertoire. When I first purchased the 50mm f/1.8, I was obsessed: It’s an easy lens for making an amateur look like a professional, and it’s also one of the only lenses I’ve been able to use without the flash in very low light to get a clear image. But I quickly tired of it, as it wasn’t the best quality and upgraded to the 50mm f/1.4 for $350, which is definitely superior to the 1.8, though I still covet the 50mm f/1.2, the ultimate in fixed lenses.
Camera tip: If you want to test out a camera or lens before making the purchase, Borrow Lenses is a helpful and affordable way to do just that.
I’ve been through several point-and-shoots, for which I’ve also purchased the underwater housing. The unfortunate part is that housing for every model is custom so you’ll have to replace it should you ever upgrade your camera. It would cost a small fortune to purchase the housing for my DSLR, so years ago I used credit card points to get the Canon G11 for free, then I purchased the housing for it for $185. However, I’m due for an upgrade soon and am eyeing the Canon G7X very closely….
I have owned every version of the GoPro from the start, from the original model to the HERO4, and while a GoPro is a fun accessory to have, I don’t necessarily think it the best to serve as your primary camera if you want a nice range of diversity in shots; That said, I am a big fan of it for sports and any kind of action photography. I mainly use ours for skiing, though we also take it diving with us, as well. While the 1 and 2 didn’t capture great underwater shots, the 3 and 4 have been vast improvements, and I’m having a lot of fun with the mini GoPro HERO4 Session in shallow waters (it only works to a depth of 33 feet, and yes I tested that claim and indeed it’s true).
For several years, I had a series of Slingshot bags before settling on the Canon Deluxe Photo Backpack 200EG, which at 40 bucks is almost disposable in the camera bag world. I’ve been using them for six years and have only destroyed two of them. They’re the perfect size for my DSLR, an extra lens or two, my GoPro and accessories, as well as charging cords, batteries, memory cards and the like. It’s also like a high-school backpack, which makes a huge difference on a long day. I also have an Epiphanie camera/laptop bag that I use day to day and as my carry-on when flying.
I’m an Apple girl through and through, and for photo and video editing, this souped-up model of the iMac simply can’t be beat. I recently traded my 2009 iMac in for this bad boy and am so glad I did; having a mega screen with which to toggle back and forth between multiple programs—as well as sort through, categorize and edit the hours worth of visual footage from my travels—often comes in handy. And the image quality is top-notch.
My laptop no doubt gets more wear than my iMac, and it’s important that it can withstand all the banging around it receives in my bag and on the road. I’ve had a number of laptops in the past decade, but my current model is my favorite yet. My advice: Get as much memory and RAM as possible—and don’t skip on AppleCare. I am glad I went with the 13-inch model instead of the 15-inch, as I do feel a huge difference lugging it around on my shoulder all day long.
Who of us hasn’t had a hard drive fail that resulted in a lot of tears and many lost memories in the form of photos and videos? After a few such incidents while traveling, I’ve learned to not rely on technology; as such, I have a half dozen or so hard drives scattered about with every one of my computer drives from the past decade backed up on them. I usually take one with me on the road so I can back up each night—just in case. For $100, it’s a pretty affordable security plan.
I’m a self-professed bookworm and I read a couple dozen books a year. I’ve tried using an iPad but don’t like the feel that I’m reading a novel on my computer screen, nor do I like that it requires two hands to hold it since I’m usually reading in bed or on the beach. For this reason alone, I’ve been loyal to Kindle since I got my first one in 2007 and can’t say enough about the Paper White I currently use, from the size to the built-in side light to the high-res display.
I’ve owned nearly every iteration of the iPhone and most recently upgraded to the 6 with 64GB of storage. I find this is more than enough space to house all my photos, videos, music and apps while traveling —not to mention, I wind up taking a good portion of my pictures through the phone now that its camera is so advanced.
My phone is my lifeline, and with as unreliable as iPhone batteries are, there’s rarely a day when I don’t need a backup charge—which is where my Mophie comes in. Not only is it extremely durable—I drop my phone hard at least once a week and never have had a shattered screen (*knocks wood*)—but it gives me a full second charge, which is pivotal when I’m on the road without a power source or out on the red carpet covering an all-night event.
After several blogger friends referred us to Hannah and Lee, we reached out for a consultation. After a few minutes on the phone, we knew this was our future web team. On top of being super talented, they’re very professional, extremely reliable, creative problem solvers, always quick to respond and the absolute best at what they do. Simply put, I’ve been blogging nearly a decade and never encountered a duo I’d recommend more highly.
Joe Hendricks is a Nashville-based wedding photographer with a flair for creative framing and interesting shots. Even though he specializes in wedding and engagement shoots, I knew he was the one I wanted to do the lifestyles photography of SVV, Ella and me for our new site design. We had so much fun, and I can’t wait to have another excuse to work with him. Oh, and future brides: He does destination weddings, too!
For several years, we used RackSpace for our hosting and encountered regular server errors; my site was always crashing or going down, and worst of all, they never seemed to want to get to the bottom of the issues. So eventually, it was time to move on. Enter: WP Engine. After more than three years of hosting C&C on their server, we’ve rarely had an issue. And if we do, their customer service has already taken care of it before we even noticed. It’s a little bit more expensive than Bluehost and comparable companies, but ultimately you’re paying for the ability to chat them up and have a situation fixed moments after it happens. Worth it.
I’ve had many credit cards over the years from Southwest’s Rapid Rewards to Delta’s AmEx (both of which I’ve now closed) and have never found one with travel benefits as great as the Chase cards: Sapphire, Ink and Bold. SVV and I take several free flights a year—not to mention book complimentary rental cars and hotels—thanks to charging everything on our Chase cards and paying them off promptly. What I really appreciate about Chase is that you aren’t limited with which airlines you can use—this was always my problem with AmEx—as you go directly through their booking engine or transfer points to Southwest 1:1.
Whether luggage or photography gear, I purchase the majority of my equipment from Amazon. Why? Well, truth be told, I’ve found the prices to be lower than anywhere else; plus, we have Prime so two-day shipping is always free and overnight shipping is a nominal fee when I’m really in a pinch. Also, if anything goes wrong, their customer service is pretty solid, and I’m (usually) confident they can right any wrong.